Who should South Asian Australians vote for this election season?

Much has been said about the relevance of an “ethnic vote” in the 2019 Federal elections, and reports show that it might be important again in 2022 but what exactly is the “ethnic vote?” It is the concept that immigrants and other people of colour tend to vote on racial or ethnic lines because of factors including racism, immigration policies and economic status. The idea is that immigrants tend to naturally support political parties that encourage immigration, or that have policies that ensure access to the job market or education once they arrive.  

The South Asian community, both immigrants and Aussie-born, is valuable to both major parties. Scott Morrison’s “curry campaign” showed the Prime Minister making curries at home multiple times in a bid to endear himself to South Asian voters. While some appreciated his efforts, others referred to them as “empty gestures.” The community is still horrified by the harsh travel bans on India during the COVID crisis, which many felt were racist and unfairly targeted people from the sub-continent. On his part, Labor leader Anthony Albanese visited the Blacktown Hindu temple in order to ingratiate himself with the Hindu community. Both have pledged millions in new funding for cultural and religious programs should they come to power. 

This “samosa diplomacy” is occurring because of the importance of the South Asian vote. In Australia, our states are divided into constituencies and seats. This means that areas with a large group of one ethnic population might be seen as ethnic seats. This notion previously played out in the seat of Chisolm in 2019 where both the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Coalition fielded a Chinese candidate in order to appeal to the bloc of Chinese immigrants in the area—the idea being that people sharing a certain ethnicity will want to “vote for their own.” In the same vein, the number of South Asians becoming citizens, and thus being able to vote, means these numbers are essential to the parties. 

However, the ethnic vote is a bit of a myth. For one thing, it also includes second generations Australians of colour who tend to vote differently from their parents. For another, many migrants tend to vote by class lines, not ethnic lines. Occupation and income can be a major axis of political cleavage, where traditionally working-class people tend to vote Labor, though these fault lines have also shifted in recent years. 

South Asian Australians are a diverse group even amongst ourselves and I can confidently say caste, class and religious faults do appear to make a difference in voting patterns. Thus, it is not possible to state with any kind of certainty that South Asians will vote a certain way. 

However, despite our differences, there are certain issues that South Asian Australians tend to care highly about as a community. Here, we examine five of these issues and give you recommendations on which commitments in the 2022 Federal election are the strongest on them. 

Access to healthcare 

We know COVID hit migrant communities hard. The death toll for immigrants was three times as high as it was for those born in Australia. 

A confluence of socio-economic factors, where many immigrants worked as delivery drivers and thus were vulnerable, and the housing crisis, as well as a damaging response from the NSW government towards migrant communities, exacerbated the problem. For South Asians, the number of deaths per 100,000 people stood at 4.8, more than double the statistic for Australians born here. 

This election season, the Coalition is looking to increase funding for healthcare in general, and so is Labor, but with a focus on living costs. The Greens are concerned with public funding for dentistry and other healthcare concerns that are currently considered incidentals rather than necessary healthcare, arguing that all things related to health must be funded. 

None of the parties have specific policies for minorities (except for Indigenous access) for healthcare. The only difference between them is how much money they are willing to spend, and in this case, we go with “more is always better.” 

So, we give the most points to Labor: 4/5

Education 

Need we even say anything here? South Asian parents are famous for their obsession with, sorry, interest in, their children’s education. 

When it comes to university fees, the Coalition drastically raised university fees for some courses, while cutting them for others in 2020. Arts and humanities degrees are now more expensive, while teaching, nursing and engineering degrees will be cheaper.  This might seem like a boon for South Asians who want that doctor, lawyer or engineer in their family, but it is a drawback for the rising number of South Asians wanting to get into creative fields. 

Labor opposes the rise in fees but does not offer publicly funded education. Instead, their plan is to offer more university places and bring down fees. This seems like a toothless exercise given the rise in living costs and inflation

On the other hand, the Greens, Victorian Socialists and even the United Australia Party are offering free university education with the Greens looking to cancel student debt. When this is the norm in other parties, it makes both the major parties seem out of touch with the realities of education in the future and so in this case, the stars go to the minor parties who want to make education accessible for all: 4/5

Immigration 

Indian Australians consistently make up the largest number of foreign immigrants who take up Australian citizenship — subsequently being conferred the right to vote — and the most educated immigrants in the country. The significant increase of about 24,000 new Indian Australians makes them an important voting bloc. 

The ability for parental unification through a residency or long-term visa program is foremost on many immigrant minds. The amount to bring parents over to stay is currently astronomical. Labor offered an expanded parental union in 2019 through cheaper visas but that seems to have been abandoned by 2022. 

The Greens point to the current policies as cruel and want to increase the intake of migrants under the family reunion visa streams by 10,000 per year, reducing the waitlist and cost to applicants. They are the only ones who seem to have addressed this, but it’s not a platform they have campaigned on. 

In this category, we give no stars to anyone. Parental reunification is deeply important to many South Asian immigrants, a platform on which votes hang, and yet none of the parties we currently have are addressing this issue. It shows that despite all that “samosa diplomacy,” political parties in Australia are unwilling to devote any real effort to something so critical for the community: 0/5

Racism and Discrimination 

While COVID racism seemed to have been aimed at Chinese Australians, South Asians were also victims of racism during that time. Between being called a “terrorist,” a “disease-ridden Punjabi,” and being physically assaulted, South Asian Australians all over the nation documented a rise in racial hatred against them. 

Racism against South Asians is an ongoing problem in the country but the major parties have been slow to respond.  Last year, the Coalition’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke promised a multicultural cohesion statement but this has yet to materialize. Furthermore, the party recently cut expenditure for multicultural programs and reduced support to the Australian Human Rights Commission, which deals with reported cases of racism. The ALP has the usual rhetoric on equality, but their  2021 report on multicultural engagement showed this was not a priority for them. 

On the other hand, the Greens have a specific set of anti-racism policies for the 2022 campaign where they want to mandate anti-racism training in employment and other sectors. The Greens have a much more articulate and all-encompassing vision of tackling racism in Australia and are the only party that considers the ongoing refugee crisis a function of racism in the country. For that, they get 4/5. 

Climate Change

Climate change is a hot topic, especially among many younger Australians. Rising sea levels, bushfires, drought conditions, heatwaves and a dying Great Barrier Reef has seen climate change as the issue that young Australians have coalesced around. 

The Coalition has a bad record with tackling climate change. As a pro-big business party, it has scrapped a carbon tax, and even tried to dismantle agencies that were initially set up to tackle the problem. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points to ineffective and lackluster Coalition policies as a reason why Australia is at dangerous crossroads, pointing out that lobbying by fossil fuel industries can stymie climate change policies. The Coalition is the worst party to tackle climate change. 

On the other side, Labor seems to want to work on it, but is also terrified of losing the vote of blue-collar workers in coal and mining industries, going so far as to publicly commit to supporting new coal mines. The party’s 2022 election platform includes a national electric vehicle strategy, electricity grid upgrades, and investment in green manufacturing, but their deadline for net-zero carbon emissions is 2050, thirty years from now when we might not even have a planet to live on. Importantly, this is exactly the same deadline as the Coalition. In fact, many of Labor's policies are just some version of existing Coalition policies. A party that isn’t willing to make the hard choices isn’t one that is prepared to deal with the climate change disaster that is upon us. There is little difference between the two major parties in this area, and they are both the wrong choice for anyone who cares about the future. 

The Greens focus on climate change is in the name of the party itself. All over the world, Green parties are united in their fight to save the planet, and our Australian Greens are no different. Their deadline for net-zero emissions is 2035, and they want to stop using coal and gas in the next decade. Importantly, by making a major shift in the economy towards Green technology, their plan will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and bring electricity costs down. The Greens' targets and policies are the most closely aligned with what climate scientists believe to be necessary to reverse the damage done. 

In case it wasn’t obvious, both Labor and the Liberals are too intertwined with coal and gas companies to be trusted to stymie climate change. The Greens are the only viable option here, and they have the tools to make foundational changes. All the points go to them: 5/5

Housing 

Labor has a government shared ownership plan (Help To Buy) that is going head-to-head with the Coalition’s Housing Guarantee Scheme. The Coalition’s 5% deposit scheme is obviously popular amongst many people, especially immigrants looking to get into the market but who don’t have a large capital, but it doesn’t do anything for housing prices themselves. Sure being able to buy with a 5% deposit is great, but that still stings when the median home price is over half a million dollars. 

Most experts agree that neither will come close to solving our housing crisis. Rent prices are going up and housing prices are out of control. In this case, neither of the main parties is offering South Asians in Australia, especially immigrants, a chance to get into the market, or even be able to rent without a huge chunk of salary going to rental costs.

The Greens housing policy exceeds both of them at the moment. The Greens target the fundamental problem: housing prices that overvalue homes and keep renters locked out of homeownership. Their policies would allow people to own a new home for $300,000. They are also promising to build one million new homes in the next decade, which will make housing more affordable.

In this category, we give the Greens all the points: 5/5

So, if you’re South Asian, who should you vote for? We can’t make that decision for you. Voting is a fundamental right of all citizens. It is how we participate in a robust democracy. As it stands, the polling shows that Labor is ahead but the polls have been wrong before. 

Whatever happens, South Asian Australians are going to become one of the strongest voting blocs in the country in decades to come. To fully leverage this, there needs to be political organising around South Asians. This is the only way we will be able to put forth the issues we care about. 

Happy voting on 21st May! 


Sangeetha Thanapal is a writer, activist and anti-racism trainer. Her high school teacher told her mother to stop her from reading so much; it didn’t work. The reading turned into writing, which then turned into her whole life.

Her fiction and non-fiction work has been published in Djed Press, Fireside Fiction, Eureka Street, Wear Your Voice and many more. She is presently working on her first novel, We, The South, an epic fantasy adventure set in medieval India. You can find her everywhere as @kaliandkalki.